The next time I saw him I was more prepared. I had questions. Questions that seemed to fit the odd moments we spent together under the magnolia. I’m sure he grew weary of the fast, constant, and demanding torrent that poured out of me.
‘Do you remember when you were born?’
‘I remember the time before, and the time I spent waiting. I recall looking at my hands. My fingers were still webbed. I remember the darkness and then the frightening light when I left my mother’s body. Don’t you remember?’
‘No. We don’t remember those things on this side.’
‘Yes. That is the difference between life here and life there.’
When it was time for him to leave again, he would cock his blond head to the side, hearing something. His fair brow would furrow a little and his shoulders tensed the slightest bit under his simple white t-shirt. He would quickly look at me, animal-like fear in his pale eyes, and then jump up from our spot under the magnolia and run behind the tree. I always ran after him, but never saw where he disappeared to. The thick, waxy, dark green leaves on the magnolia didn’t rustle, and the perfume from the creamy flowers didn’t grow stronger or fainter in his absence. The forest remained still.
I never went straight home after he left, preferring to stay and sit under the tree’s shadow for a while, sometimes climbing the tree and trying to find whatever portal or vacuum or vortex or rabbit hole he escaped to. I’d find a perch, usually halfway up the tree’s trunk, and put my head in my hands. Magnolias are dark inside their canopies, even if the day is glaring and hot, inside the tree I felt safely cocooned. What little light seeped through the heavy leaves illuminated the ivory blossoms, but nothing else.
Eventually I went home to our apartment, opening the door to find my mother sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the television, twirling a strand of her white-blond hair in her long fingers. I’d cross the dark and hot living room to her, kiss her smooth cheek, and go to the kitchen to start supper for my father.